Microsoft says it will finally give developers a peek at the next version of its omnipresent Windows operating system, code-named "Longhorn," in October at its professional developer's conference in Los Angeles. However, conference attendees should not expect to get their hands on a full beta version at that show, as the folks in Redmond are promising only a "developers preview."
Still, Microsoft execs insist that they will come through with more than just slideware. In fact, the company is expected to distribute hunks of Longhorn's source code and to provide attendees with a real taste of the look and feel of the new OS. They also plan to hand out SDKs and tools that support Longhorn's new "managed APIs."
The new Longhorn client is expected to include a radically overhauled file system, a controversial new security architecture called the Next Generation Secure Computing Base, as well as extensive interface changes. Microsoft is billing the much-anticipated Longhorn OS, the next major Windows client release and the successor to Windows XP, as a key part of a major "technology wave" that will include a range of products scheduled for near-simultaneous release in 2005.
Along with the new OS, expect to see Windows Server Longhorn, Microsoft Office Longhorn, Microsoft Visual Studio Longhorn and a slew of other products built to run on the underpinnings of these new platforms.
Many industry skeptics contend Microsoft will not make its planned 2005 launch. Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox believes that it is more likely that the OS release will not be generally available until 2006. In his recently published report, "Longhorn: Implications of Next Windows' Ship Date," he writes: "Given that Microsoft is delivering not just one but many Longhorn products, we don't expect this next version of Windows to be generally available until 2006. Microsoft will also want to give software developers and end-users time to prepare for the new file system." At the top of Wilcox's reasons for the delay: Longhorn's revamped file system, which will rely on a new file storage structure, called Windows Future Storage (WinFS). The new file system was derived from servers to manage data on desktops via a relational database, and will supersede FAT and NTFS, which are currently used by Microsoft's operating systems.
Would such a delay matter much? XP adoption is still far from complete, Wilcox points out, with older editions of Windows in businesses currently outnumbering XP nearly 3-to-1 by some estimates. "Businesses are just on the edge of adoption for XP," Wilcox said.
Interest in the new OS is intense. Purportedly leaked alpha builds of Longhorn began appearing on the Internet this year. And several purported screenshots of the Longhorn interface, code-named "Aero," appeared to be leaked to the public last May.
Microsoft, which has kept the UI strictly under wraps, moved quickly to "debunk" these leaks. The images reportedly came from a presentation by Steve Ball, program manager for Microsoft's Windows Audio Video Devices Group, at the WinHEC 2003 event. However, Microsoft said that the screenshots were likely early concepts and not Aero itself.